“My vision for the future has always been the same: to stay in the field. I didn’t know how to do it, but with the experience I’ve had, I’ve become convinced that we must implement a daily technological advance in the countryside. I want to live in the countryside with a new vision, in which young people feel welcome,” says Angie.
This is a key point and one of the main characteristics of the schools that Tierra Libre has founded in the region: to respond to the challenge of ensuring that young people do not leave the countryside.
Young people aged 14–18 account for some 12 million of Colombia’s population of around 50 million, according to the Centre for Research and Popular Education (CINEP). Of these, 22% are rural youth. One of the most pressing challenges facing Colombian society is keeping these young people in the countryside. The region’s large urban population results mainly from abandonment of the countryside, which has become unsustainable and a victim of industrial agribusiness and trade wars.
The future looks bleak. According to the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Centre (Celade), in 1950 the rural population was slightly larger than the urban population. Now, it is expected that by 2050, less than 15% of people will be living in the countryside.
When young people leave the countryside, there is a shortage of productive labour, leaving only two options: abandonment or industrial exploitation, which has a negative impact on the soil and the market. Leaders like Angie and agroecological projects are key to a sustainable future – teaching a new way of understanding, encouraging the young and providing valuable activities.
“Here, women have been encouraged to take leadership roles, to love ourselves, to be strong and empowered,” Angie says. Women have become one of the structural axes of the project. The publication ‘Andares de mujeres del Sumapaz’ explains how rural women are key to the development of food sovereignty and the economy of the countryside. Women are not only farmers and entrepreneurs, but also responsible for the well-being of their family, including providing food, childcare and caring for the elderly.
Despite being the pillar that sustains peasant communities, women farmers in Colombia are able to make decisions in only 26% of the Agricultural Production Units (UPA), according to the 2013 National Agricultural Census. Another worrying fact, which shows the precariousness of women in the countryside, is that women hold titles to only 26% of the land. Empowerment processes for rural women, through schools and organisations such as Tierra Libre, are important to guarantee a more balanced and sustainable production system.
Angie is keen to continue her studies and pursue her dream of living in a fairer countryside where technology is the way forward towards real sustainability for peasant economies.
Sarita, guardian of La Huerta
Sara Daniela Martínez, known as Sarita, is an administrator who runs the eco-shop La Huerta, one of the jewels of the Tierra Libre project. She works in economy and fair trade, which are the foundations of La Huerta, and also deals with gender issues within the organisation.
Founded in 2016, La Huerta directly supports the local economy, selling only food grown by farmers in the region. Its central aim is to deepen the ties between farmers and those who receive the food they grow. Its name is a tribute to traditional peasant houses with their subsistence vegetable gardens.
At La Huerta, each process is transparent; by interacting directly with the farmers who grow the food, people can understand the cultivation cycle. Sarita says that, thanks to La Huerta, many farming families have a stable livelihood that they did not have before.
Sustainable supply chains, which provide workers at the bottom of the chain with stable jobs through fair trade, have long been promoted by organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The importance of these chains is evident in the numbers. For example, coffee is grown in more than 70 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Around 80% of the world’s coffee is produced by 25 million farmers, mostly smallholders with less than five hectares of land.
This scenario is repeated with different crops in the region. The close proximity between producers and the market, eliminating intermediaries that do not add value but do add price, means that fair trade has become the key to the resilience of smallholder farmers.